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Teaching Undergraduates with Archives

Each year, more than 1,000 undergraduate students come to the Bentley Historical Library to engage with its archival collections. How best to teach those students with primary sources has been a topic that the Bentley has vigorously addressed since early 2016, when the Library was awarded a five-year grant from the University of Michigan Office of the Provost to more deeply pursue engaged learning.

Since then, archivists and members of the University’s tenure-track teaching faculty have met regularly to perfect the way that University faculty use archival collections for teaching at the Bentley and elsewhere. Now, halfway through the five-year grant, the Bentley Historical Library is hosting a three-day symposium called Teaching Undergraduates with Archives. The symposium invites archivists, faculty, and students to participate in sessions focused on collaboration, design, evaluation, and research centered around teaching undergrads with primary sources.

“We’ve been embedding archivists in multiple aspects of the undergraduate learning experience and now, more than two years in, we’re ready to share our first findings,” says Bentley Associate Director Nancy Bartlett, who has helped organize the symposium and has reviewed proposals for presentations, workshops, and panel discussions. “The symposium is a reflection of a larger shift at the Bentley to design and develop a new approach to engaging undergraduates.”

Cinda Nofziger, the Bentley Archivist for Academic Programs and Outreach, says the symposium is all the more relevant in an era of “fake news.”

“Teaching students how to analyze and understand primary sources is how you can teach students to analyze and understand anything,” Nofziger says. “You have to think about who it was written by, who the audience was, were there biases and what was the context? When students learn to do this, our hope is that they can take that analysis into other arenas as well.

“I’m excited by the opportunity for those who do this work to be in the same room together, to think about these issues and generate solutions together.”

The symposium will be held November 7–9 at the University of Michigan, with a first-day reception at the Bentley Historical Library. To make the event as inclusive as possible, it is being offered without charge to participants, with meals included. For more information, please visit, or email